May 17, 2011

Regent Tilles: Why we shouldn’t link teacher evaluation to test scores

Source: NYSUT Communications

Following is an excerpt from Regent Roger Tilles' recent letter in response to the recent vote on teacher evaluation. It appeared in the Washington Post and Newsday:

I support a rigorous system of evaluation. It is imperative that we develop a system that is effective and fair and that will lead to better student learning. Unfortunately, the regulations - which link 20-40 percent of a teacher's evaluation on the results of student standardized test scores - don't have some of the elements necessary to make them either fair or effective...

An evaluation system of teacher performance that includes a measure of growth of student learning over time is imperative. But using the student results of New York's standardized tests to evaluate teachers is not an acceptable measure. A snapshot indicator of a student's skills, understanding and knowledge of content do not give a true picture of a teacher's performance. And our present state tests, and the way they are scaled, are not designed to measure growth from year to year. We are years away from actually having in place valid state tests designed to measure growth.

The proposal under consideration applies these test-based value-added techniques to teacher evaluations. If these value-added techniques were applied to other professions as they are being applied to teachers, it would mean that dentists be would evaluated not on their skills but only on how many cavities a dentist's patients gets in a year or with a doctor on how many times his patients get sick in a year. Similarly, police are not evaluated on the number of crimes committed on their beat, nor fire personnel on number of fires in their jurisdiction. We would all acknowledge that such rating systems are at best incomplete.

A task force created by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards stated in their report: "Much of what is tested does count, but much of what counts cannot be tested."

The high-stakes consequences contemplated in this regulation, such as teachers losing their jobs, will result in teachers concentrating on the kids who will yield the greatest results in their evaluation. If average student growth is the vital statistic, then the teacher might favor teaching those who might show the largest gain. If achieving a critical standard is the goal, then the teacher might concentrate on those who are closest to that standard and pay less attention to those who may not achieve that standard, as well as those who because of their ability will get there on their own. In short, too many of our students may be shortchanged.

The entire piece is available online at the Washington Post blog.